By Gui Oliveira
The Richmond District rapper, Kyle Shin – familiarly known as Son of Paper to his fans – released a new album, “From a Rooftop in Chinatown,” on Jan. 20. To celebrate the release, he performed at the Cameron House rooftop on Feb. 18.
“From a Rooftop in Chinatown” takes on quite a contrasting musical approach than his previous album, “Always Autumn.” Shin incorporates the guzheng, a traditional East-Asian instrument, on the track “Overcame,” by teaming up with Winnie Wong.
“We really blended those sounds and found a way to create a soundscape that felt modern but also felt timelessly old, too, with East-Asian sounds,” Shin said. Wong is a masterful guzheng player; she first started learning the instrument at the age of 4 and has built a career playing shows, recitals, giving private lessons in San Francisco and more.
When playing with Shin live, Wong has to interpret his lyrics by “improvising with his work and feeding off of the lyrics, and just adding little melodic riffs and also just that emotional kind of agitation in it.” Wong said. The way she improvises on the guzheng really elevates Shin’s performance and lyrics by feeling out the message of the song and effectively translating that musically to his audience.
The Cameron House is an important piece of Chinese and San Francisco history, dating back to its founding in 1874 by the Presbyterian Church as the Occidental Home for Girls. During the Chinese Exclusion Act, young girls and women were smuggled into the country and sold as commodities in what came to be known as the Yellow Slave Trade. These girls and women took refuge in the Cameron House where they learned skills and faith. The massive brick building is located at 920 Sacramento St., bordering Nob Hill. Over the years, the Cameron House rooftop has served as a set for filming.
Shin performed on the rooftop, (which is really a basketball court overlooking the Financial District skyscrapers to the east), for a mixed audience of all ages ranging from young kids to seniors and members of the community. People traveled from all over the world to see his show.
“I think the album, ‘From a Rooftop,’ sprung from hate crimes against Asian Americans,” Shin said. “Trying to establish a sense of Asian-American identity and sound has always been a goal of mine as a musician.”
The “Mr. Chinatown” music video addresses anti-Asian violence by featuring Shin as someone who is actively a part of the Chinatown community, looking out for and protecting those who are vulnerable to anti-Asian hate. Toward the end of the video, some of the actual community organizers and leaders of Chinatown are shown defending themselves heroically against the bullies.
“He just had this idea for a music video for ‘Mr. Chinatown,’” said Leonard Caoili, who worked as director of photography in the music video as well as on other projects with Shin. “He kind of had a rough idea of how it should go, like he wanted to address the Asian hate going on and showing him as a, how do I describe it …? Not necessarily painting him as a savior, but as someone who is able to help out against Asian violence.”
Part of the pre-production process was researching the incidents of anti-Asian violence in San Francisco.
“Even though it was depressing to go through, we also had to realize it was an important subject that had to be addressed” Caoili said.
The “Mr. Chinatown” music video can be found on YouTube, along with other original Son of Paper content.
Shin tours twice a year, February through June. He plays bars and clubs with the prospect of getting into the festival circuit. He has friends in Toronto, New York and Connecticut with whom he connects while expanding his fan base. Life on the road is a very grassroots and hands-on process of finding viable venues, not to mention putting together a whole weeks- or months-long tour.
“So, it was very DIY in a sense that we created the tour on our own. It’s not like I have a label that’s helping me book a tour. It’s basically me and my booking manager,” Shin said.
Son of Paper’s music and videos can be found on Spotify, YouTube and Instagram @sonofpaper.
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